Music for Getting Shit Done

I have always been on the fence about listening to music while working. If I am writing (which my job requires! it’s kind of awesome, being a history professor) I find music distracting: the result is usually me staring off into space thinking about Handel rather than text about colonial America appearing on the page.

On the other hand, sometimes it does help. I have spent the past week going through the Calendar of State Papers Colonial, which is the vast index of documents in the British state archives relating to all things colonial – it tells you what is there and (usually) where it is. (Some bits are tricky. For example, not long after the calendar was made in the 1800s, they reorganized the entire colonial records series, so occasionally you have go to through a bit of a translation process to figure out from the references in the calendar to the actual numbers of the documents. And do not even get me started about the Interregnum, the bit in the 1650s where England was not a monarchy. Let us say that the British archives are very well organized compared to some others, but god damn it is kind of a slog sometimes.) Reading indices is not so terrifically exciting (most of the time) that music would be a distraction. The same is true for figuring out what I will make the graduate students read this fall for the US historiography survey.

So my usual MO is to put the Playlist of Everything in iTunes on ‘shuffle by group’ so that it plays one random piece, rather than a whole album, at a time, and if I get bored I can not look at iTunes and try to guess what it is. It was a very proud day for me when I distinguished Hilary Hahn playing Mozart from Andrew Manze playing Mozart via style and sound alone. I am not uniformly successful with guesses like that: I am capable of thinking that Haydn on a roll might be Mozart or mistaking early (1870s) Mahler for Brahms. The danger of course is that one ends up playing Name That Tune and not What Is That Document or Let’s Finish The Syllabus, and unfortunately for me, it is only those last two that will get me tenure.

But I did realize just how much violin music I actually have, which is a lot.

Also, it has come to my attention that I am going to miss a Styriarte broadcast of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen tomorrow (Saturday) because, not knowing it would happen, I went and bought ballet tickets for that afternoon, which neatly coincide with the evening performance time in Europe. Drat. (Fingers crossed it will be archived, or will end up as a bootleg or something . . . .)

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